A name floated by the Obama administration as a possible nominee to lead the Forest Service and farmland conservation programs is drawing objections from some advocacy groups.
Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, has been mentioned as a possible nominee for Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment. The post directs the Forest Service and conservation projects at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Homer Lee Wilkes, the Mississippi state conservationist, was nominated in May for the post but withdrew his name from consideration, citing family and financial reasons.
Now conservation groups say the administration is leaning toward Sherman for the job -- a pick they question because of his efforts on roadless issues in Colorado.
Colorado is developing its own roadless rule to govern more than 4 million acres of national forest, including some of the nation's best known backcountry recreation areas. Only two states, Colorado and Idaho, embarked on a process the Bush administration established to petition for their own roadless protections. Critics say Colorado's draft rule is far less protective than Idaho's.
Environmentalists have pushed the Obama administration to reinstate the 2001 roadless rule, which granted blanket protection to about 58 million acres nationwide, but it has been mired in legal battles ever since President Clinton put the rule in place just before he left office. During the presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) expressed his support for the 2001 roadless rule.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that it would take a one-year delay on making any long-term decisions on the controversial Clinton-era roadless rule. Instead, the USDA secretary for the next year will have sole power to make decisions on building roads and harvesting timber on nearly all the areas covered by the 2001 rule.
Continuing a process begun by his Republican predecessor, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) is asking for a state-specific rule. A state task force recommended opening about 300,000 acres to development -- including new roads for wildfire protection, utility facilities and minerals development -- while keeping more than 4 million roadless acres off-limits to energy development.
Michael Francis, director of the Wilderness Society's national forest program, said Sherman's work on the Colorado rule as part of the Ritter administration makes him a poor choice for Agriculture undersecretary.
"The process that Mr. Sherman has been leading in Colorado would essentially eviscerate the protections of the 2001 rule," Francis said. "I question whether he could do what the president would want him to do."
David Petersen, a Trout Unlimited official in Colorado who was on the state's roadless task force, also raised concerns about having Sherman in a position to help determine the administration's forthcoming roadless rule policy.
"It just troubles us and seems like a very unusual choice, an incongruous choice for a man whose job here in Colorado has been to fight off our consistent requests to lay aside the administrative state rule," Peterson said. "It just doesn't seem like a very good fit, and we're troubled by it."
Sherman has shown "iron-stiff persistence" in trying to push through the state roadless rule, Petersen said, which his group sees as "deeply flawed."
"We're wondering how someone who has worked against getting the 2001 rule reinstated in his home state is going to be able to work for it when he gets to D.C.," he said.
Sherman did not answer requests for comment by deadline.